May 1, 2020 / 9:02 AM / 25 days ago

Burial numbers in Jakarta indicate coronavirus toll is higher than officially reported

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Burials in Jakarta remained close to record highs in April, official data showed on Friday, indicating there may have been many more deaths from COVID-19 in the city than have been officially recorded.

FILE PHOTO: A health worker performs a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) nasal swab test on a man, in Depok, on the outskirts of Jakarta, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Indonesia April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

The 4,377 burials, combined with 4,422 burials in March, indicate that 2,500 more people have died in the city in the past two months than the average for the period.

The burials data, from the website of the city’s parks and cemeteries department, does not identify the cause of death.

Jakarta is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the world’s fourth most populous country. According to the central government, there had been 375 COVID-19 deaths in the capital as of Saturday.

Overall, Indonesia has had 800 deaths from the disease, Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto said on Friday.

Asked about the Jakarta burial figures, Yurianto told Reuters that official figures for coronavirus deaths included only those who died after testing positive for the disease.

Some people who died with COVID-19 symptoms were not tested at all, while others had their samples collected “incorrectly”, Yurianto said. He did not elaborate on what the incorrect samples meant.

The March burial figure for Jakarta was the highest since such data began being collected a decade ago, nearly one third higher than any month in that period. City Governor Anies Baswedan told Reuters at the time: “I’m struggling to find another reason than unreported COVID-19 deaths.”

Baswedan could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

The April burials figure fell only slightly although many people left the city for their home villages in the first three weeks of the month.

A spokesman for the Jakarta provincial government declined to answer questions about the burials data and the number of people who had left the city.

“We don’t have daily data to get a precise trend. However, deducting for out-migration, it’s not slowing down yet,” said one Jakarta-based epidemiologist, who asked not to be identified.

Authorities introduced a soft lockdown on Jakarta in March, closing schools and some businesses. On April 24 travel out of the city was strictly banned in an effort to stop more people leaving for the annual post-Ramadan exodus from Greater Jakarta.

Indonesia has had 10,551 confirmed cases of the illness, the Health Ministry’s Yurianto said on Friday.

A Reuters review of data from 16 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces showed this week that more than 2,200 people have died with acute symptoms of COVID-19 but were not recorded as victims of the disease.

Additional Reporting by Nilufar Rizki and Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Tom Allard and Ed Davies; Editing by Frances Kerry

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